The NJDEP Ecological Evaluation Technical Guidance, dated February 2015, Version 1.3 was created in order to “…to provide efficient and streamlined tiered guidance for the evaluation of ecological risk and aquatic and terrestrial habitats associated with contaminated sites.” In other words, an Ecological Evaluation (EE) is conducted in order to determine if remedial actions are required to protect an environmentally sensitive natural resource (ESNR). These ESNRs are basically wetlands, surface waters (rivers, streams, ponds, creeks, etc.), beaches, dunes, Pinelands areas, etc. In order to determine if an ESNR is in fact being impacted by a contaminated site, three (3) variables are required: the presence of an ESNR, the presence of a contaminant of potential ecological concern (COPEC), and some sort of pathway from the COPEC to the ESNR. If one of these variables is not present, then the EE is completed and no further action is required. However, if all variables are present, further investigation must be conducted to determine if the ESRN is being impacted and if the ESNR is being impacted, the proper remedial action must take place.
The investigation of potential impact of an ESNR by a COPEC is conducted through sampling along the potential pathway during the Remedial Investigation portion of site remediation. As has been said throughout, if a contaminant is found above the NJDEP Ecological Screening Criteria (ESC), remediation is required. However, the type of remediation is not always as bad as one might think. Based on information provided in NJDEP webinars and the guidance, remediation could be conducted through a background investigation. For example, if arsenic is found above the ESC, on a site, the responsible party may want to investigate background areas to determine if arsenic is naturally occurring above these standards (as is the case in Burlington County). The responsible party may also want to determine if a particular receptor is present that is more sensitive to arsenic than other receptors. In other words, if a particular bird is known to be more susceptible to arsenic, but is not known to be associated with the site, the responsible party can utilize a less conservative standard for arsenic that may bring arsenic concentrations at the contaminated site below applicable criteria.
This interpretation of the guidance understands that although ESCs of contaminants are much more stringent compared to human health standards, the responsible party has other remedial options than simply spending money to remove contamination. Through the guidance of an environmental professional, a responsible party can determine if their site is impacting an ESNR and if so, choose a course of action that is both helpful to the environment as well as to the economic impact on the responsible party.
For more information contact David DiPascale, Assistant Project Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The guidance document can be found here http://www.nj.gov/dep/srp/guidance/srra/ecological_evaluation.pdf